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While the family is gathered this holiday,
why not plan to record a "video family history?"
by Rob Huberman


November 29, 2004

The holiday season is quickly approaching-times when families traditionally gather together to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. With several generations often present, this can also be a perfect time to plan to ask the older individuals to tell about their lives, about growing up, and to record a "video family history."

What is a video family history? It's like a family "storybook" narrated by members of your family-parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins or even yourself. It's a way to document your family's heritage and experiences, featuring relatives who knew your ancestors and can recall the significant places and events that shaped their lives.

And it's all produced with your camcorder.

Such a difference today's video technology offers in documenting the sights and sounds of our lives-especially when compared to those old home movies-with no sound except for the hum of the projector.

Not so with today's camcorders, which produce superior images under average light conditions and even record sound in stereo. Almost everybody owns one or at least has access to one.

Maybe you're even already a "pro" at videotaping your family events and vacations. Or maybe your camcorder just spends a lot of time in the closet since the novelty of recording everything in sight has worn off. In either case, why not turn this year's holiday time into a family history time that can get the whole family involved?

Everybody has a favorite story to tell about his or her life, and given the right opportunity, most people like to express their opinions or talk about they've done. Sharing their life in a video family history interview often stimulates long-forgotten memories, which can lead to surprisingly wonderful personal and family stories that might otherwise be lost forever-had you not taken the time to capture and document them on video tape.

Time with our older generations is limited. Unfortunately, most of us never realize, until it is too late, how valuable videotaped memories will become until the opportunity no longer exists to record our family members.

My wife's father passed away battling cancer, three years after we had videotaped his family history while he was still healthy. When she, her mother and brother first watched the tape again years later, they were amazed (and thrilled) to see and hear him again-vibrant, animated, and telling stories they had completely forgotten. Now our children can also watch that tape, 'spend time' with him, and get a better idea of just what their grandfather was like.

Compiling your video family history is probably much easier than you think. It doesn't require any complicated equipment, technical procedures or interviewing experience. All you really need is your camcorder, a video tape, a tripod, any TV to watch onand a good list of questions that encourages people to talk to you and helps to guide them through their thoughts and experiences. Sometimes during the family history interview, individuals even forget they are being recorded and just "take a trip down memory lane."

You can even get children involved by allowing them to ask some of the questionsand they make a great audience for the storyteller.

So, with everything in place, all that is left is to let your camcorder capture your subject's special personality, mannerisms and expressions as your questions explore not only your family history, but your loved one's thoughts, emotions and spirit.

Your video tapes will be filled with the wealth of experiences and richness of life these special people have to offer as you compile your video family history. Chances are, you will learn something new about them and maybe, even about yourself. And without a doubt, these tapes will one day be priceless.

So, if you are interested in your family history or have aging relatives like grandparents or great-grandparents that you would like young children to be able to "get to know" long after they have passed-on, now is the time to start compiling their video family history. Who knows what "family treasures" you'll discover throughout the years. All you need to do is start asking!




Rob Huberman is the co-author of How to Create a Video Family History: The Complete Guide to Interviewing and Taping Your Family's Stories & Memories, ($14.95,, 609-487-9000)

For book information visit




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Ketchikan, Alaska